From a “Gay Rat Wedding” to Intergalactic Nonbinary Heroes: Children’s Media to Help Your Family Celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride All Year
Back in 2005, before Arthur’s "Gay Rat Wedding" episode, the PBS series about an anthropomorphic, school-aged aardvark faced backlash due to a spin-off episode called "Postcards From Buster." In it, Arthur’s rabbit pal, Buster, visited actual (live-action) families, and one of those families happened to be a lesbian couple from Vermont. The public outcry was so huge that the then-U.S. Secretary of Education demanded PBS return the public funds it used to create the episode. And that was just 15 years ago.
"Until very recently, LGBTQ people would look to media and not have any representation or would only have a negative stereotype to identify with," wrote April Sizemore-Barber, a professor in the women’s and gender studies program at Georgetown University. "This absence of stories leads to ignorance among members of the general public [who don’t see LGBTQ stories represented] and isolation for those who identify as LGBTQ+ and are implicitly told that they don’t exist."
It’s clear that a lot of work needs to be done, and while much of that work falls to the folks actually making and green-lighting the content, audiences and readers can help by supporting content that features LGBTQ+ narratives. So, whether you’re looking to celebrate Pride Month, diversify your kids’ media intake year-round or find positive representation for LGBTQ+ children who want to see themselves reflected in queer characters and stories, we’ve rounded up must-watch TV shows and must-read books that center queerness.
“She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” a Reboot by Noelle Stevenson
Created by Eisner Award-winning comic writer/artist Noelle Stevenson (Nimona, Lumberjanes), She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a reboot of the 1985 series She-Ra: Princess of Power — a spinoff of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The series’ protagonist is Adora, a teenager who trained alongside her gal pal Catra under Lord Hordak in the evil Horde army.
The “Frog and Toad” Books by Arnold Lobel
While these sweet stories about two tweed-wearing amphibians aren’t explicitly queer, and while we’d normally champion works that go beyond subtext, there’s something special about Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books. Published between 1970 and 1979, the stories were written amid Lobel’s own personal revelation. "I think Frog and Toad really was the beginning of him coming out," Adrianne Lobel, the author’s daughter, told The New Yorker.
Rebecca Sugar’s “Steven Universe”
Created by Rebecca Sugar for Cartoon Network, Steven Universe tells the coming-of-age story of the titular boy (Zach Callison). Although Steven’s dad is a car wash-owning rock musician, his mom, Rose Quartz, was a gem — a magical, humanoid alien from outer space. Years ago, Rose led the Crystal Gems, a rebel group, in war to protect Earth from the clutches of her alien Homeworld. In giving birth to Steven, Rose passed on her powers and life-force, so the members of the Crystal Gems — Rose’s ex and ever-type-A Pearl (Deedee Magno Hall); cool, calm and collected Garnet (Estelle); and the brash-but-lovable Amethyst (Michaela Dietz) — raise Steven and protect Earth in Rose’s stead.
Becky Albertalli’s “Simonverse” — Both on the Page and on the Screen
Becky Albertalli’s 2015 young adult (YA) novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda skyrocketed to success, cementing the author’s place as a beloved YA writer — so much so that her other books, The Upside of Unrequited, Leah on the Offbeat and the forthcoming Love, Creekwood, have added even more dimension to what’s been dubbed the "Simonverse." All of Albertalli’s books really capture teen voices and stories — many of them queer — but there’s something so winning about Simon in particular.
“The Boy & the Bindi” by Vivek Shraya with Illustrations by Rajni Perera
Canadian musician, writer, visual artist and Tegan and Sara Foundation board member Vivek Shraya’s first book, God Loves Hair, was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in the YA category. Centered around the life of a brown, genderqueer child growing up in an immigrant family in Alberta, the book is composed of illustrated, linked stories. Several years later, The Boy & the Bindi marks Shraya’s first foray into writing a children’s picture book.
Marvel’s Runaways, a Hulu series based on the superhero team of the same name, follows six teenagers (and one dinosaur) from different backgrounds as they unite against a common enemy — their criminal parents, who are collectively known as Pride. Two of these teens are Nico (Lyrica Okano) — a Wiccan who wields the arcane Staff of One — and Karolina (Virginia Gardner) — a human-alien hybrid who learns she can fly and shoot beams of light from her hands. You know, typical teen stuff.
Mythology-Based Books From the “Riordanverse”
Rick Riordan is best known for his chart-topping YA novel Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which tells the story of a young boy who discovers he’s a demi-god — and then finds himself caught up in modern-day Greek mythology-inspired misadventures. After writing many a novel inspired by Greek mythology, Riordan pivoted to Norse mythology, which brings us to Magnus Chase 2: The Hammer of Thor, which won a Stonewall Award for queer representation.
“Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” by Mariko Tamaki with Illustrations by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
After working on projects involving Marvel’s She-Hulk, DC Comics’ Supergirl and Noelle Stevenson’s queer comic Lumberjanes, writer Mariko Tamaki collaborated with artist Rosemary Valero-O’Connell for the hit graphic novel Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me. Set in Berkeley, California, the book centers on Frederica, or Freddy, a 17-year-old biracial lesbian, and, as the title of the graphic novel suggests, she struggles with her on-again/off-again relationship with "cool girl" Laura Dean.
“The Legend of Korra” Show — But, Honestly, More So the Comics
The Legend of Korra is the sequel series to Nickelodeon’s beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender series. The original show tells the story of Aang — a young boy who can bend (or control) the four elements of fire, water, air and earth, because he is the Avatar, a being that’s the bridge between the human and spirit worlds and who is destined to bring about balance. Aang is tasked with mastering the elements and saving the world from a century-long war that’s coming to a head. In the sequel series, Korra, who is born the Avatar after Aang passes away, is tasked with carrying on that legacy and mastering the elements.
And a Shoutout to Popular TV Shows With Truly Unforgettable Queer Moments
A few cartoons that don’t necessarily center on queer characters — or that have shyed away from declaring that queerness forthright (cough, Adventure Time, cough) — have still provided some incredible milestones in on-screen LGBTQ+ representation.
BONUS: This Character From “Adventure Time”
Finally, nothing says "Happy Pride" like an anthropomorphic cartoon cloud with Cameron Esposito’s iconic side-mullet queercut. Thanks, Adventure Time!